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Race, Incarceration, and American Values (Boston Review Books)

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ISBN-13: 978-0262123112
ISBN-10: 0262123118
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this pithy discussion, renowned scholars debate the American penal system through the lens—and as a legacy—of an ugly and violent racial past. Economist Loury argues that incarceration rises even as crime rates fall because we have become increasingly punitive. According to Loury, the disproportionately black and brown prison populations are the victims of civil rights opponents who successfully moved the country's race dialogue to a seemingly race-neutral concern over crime. Loury's claims are well-supported with genuinely shocking statistics, and his argument is compelling that even if the racial argument about causes is inconclusive, the racial consequences are clear. Three shorter essays respond: Stanford law professor Karlan examines prisoners as an inert ballast in redistricting and voting practices; French sociologist Wacquant argues that the focus on race has ignored the fact that inmates are first and foremost poor people; and Harvard philosophy professor Shelby urges citizens to break with Washington's political outlook on race. The group's respectful sparring results in an insightful look at the conflicting theories of race and incarceration, and the slim volume keeps up the pace of the argument without being overwhelming. (Sept.)
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From Booklist

With 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. accounts for 25 percent of those who are imprisoned. What does that say about American values? asks economist Loury. Those statistics suggest that the U.S. is a punitive society targeting its punishment disproportionately more often at the poor and racial minorities, stigmatizing huge segments of the population, he asserts. Starting with that premise, Loury invited commentary at a forum on race and incarceration from three scholars: Pamela Karlan, Tommie Shelby, and Loic Wacquant. The result is a slim book that is, nonetheless, a penetrating look at the troubling trends in incarceration in the U.S. and the broader impact on American society. Karlan highlights voter disenfranchisement of blacks and offers a historic perspective since Reconstruction. Shelby explores the complexities of individual choice and social structure and the responsibility of society to explain the consequences of individual actions to the poor people most likely to be incarcerated. And Wacquant emphasizes economic class as a greater indicator than race of who is likely to be incarcerated. --Vernon Ford

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Product Details

  • Series: Boston Review Books
  • Hardcover: 96 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (August 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262123118
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262123112
  • Product Dimensions: 4.5 x 0.2 x 7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #133,091 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By L. Coleman on September 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In this short book, Loury engages in a provocative study of the link between race and incarceration. Citing a number of shocking statistics, the author points out that the number of incarcerations has dramatically increased over the past thirty years or so. This spike in imprisonments seems to have little to do with actual crime rates, and more to do with a prevalence of sentencing members of poor, African American communities. While the racial disparity in imprisonment rates suggests obvious grievances on the part of the American judicial system, Loury argues that the problem has roots in what he calls a lack of "social responsibility": the balance between an individual's obligation to uphold the law, and society's commitment to ensuring fair opportunities and reform for those imprisoned.

I found Loury's suggestions on reforming the injustices of the penal system to be very insightful, calling for a change in social consciousness and ethics in order to improve and defend the rights of those convicted of crimes. Loury points out that black men who are incarcerated experience a 10 percent drop in hourly wages after they are released from prison, and many are unable to retain voting rights long after they fulfill their sentences for even more minor offences. While they are incarcerated, their families and communities suffer, evidenced in part by studies that show urban communities with high incarceration rates in a given year experienced higher crime rates the following year.
Loury's piece is followed by three shorter pieces by Karlan, Wacquant, and Shelby--all renowned researchers and professors--who offer additional commentary and information specific to their fields. Their essays supplement Loury's discussion in a productive and illuminating manner.
This is an important book for anyone who cares remotely about the integrity and efficacy of the American judicial system.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Herbert L Calhoun on November 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this short essay, as part of the Tanner Lecture series, at Stanford University, Professor Glenn C. Loury, (holder of the Merton P. Stoltz endowed Chair of Social Science at Brown University), reminds me of a poem by the renown revolutionary poet Don L. Lee called "Don't Cry, Scream!" The last line of the poem says something to the effect that we will "envy the BLIND man -- (because we) know that he will hear what (we'll) never see."

And that is exactly what professor Loury has elected to do here. He takes clear flight from his own deep passion and from the denial that is the screen of blindness shielding American culture from its own internal truths about how through a half century of racism it has distorted its own cherished values. Loury uses the ethics of Jon Rawls to make a controlled intellectual scream that pierces a dagger through the heart of America's racist membrane of denial about what the criminal justice system is doing to American culture and American values. First what it is doing to America's number one perceived internal enemy and existential anti-hero, black men. And then what it is doing to the black race more generally through destruction of the black family by criminalizing all of its black men. And finally, in what it is doing to diminish America's most cherished values and American humanity as a whole, by turning a blind eye to a morally reprehensible and thoroughly racist criminal justice system. [Whites should beware because their chickens always come home to roost: History has taught us that what is done to black people today, soon will be done to other minorities and poor white people just around the corner, tomorrow.] To black men, America is already a veritable police state.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Gautam Maitra on November 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Lory's book on Race, Incarceration, and American Values is studded with stunning statistics about the seemingly racial discrimination that the black and the brown races undergo compared with to white counterparts. The book highlights many anomalies and biaseness in the American judicial system and Lory calls for a change in the social and ethical consciouness of the Americans as a possible solution. The state of American prisons and the rising number of prison rates puts to shame those of worst dictatorships.

Yet the book is a bit anachroniostic and American society of the new millennium has changed a lot from those of the previous eras. The election of am African-American to the highest post speaks volume of the resilience and ethical consciousness of the American society and the conditions depicted by Lory would further change during Obama's presidency.

The book is very useful and is a must read.

Gautam Maitra
Author of 'Tracing the Eagle's Orbit: Illuminating Insights into Major US Foreign Policies Since Independence.'
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By Amazon Customer on July 28, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
Having listen to Lowry I can hear his voice in my head while reading this book. A tough subject that is getting increasingly more relevant.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful By "tsroddy" on December 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have yet to read the contents of the book but the quality condition of the book's receipt was superb!
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